The distance between the two was roughly 10 mels. For a boss monster on Munechika’s level, a distance like that meant nothing. Her blade drew an arc while closing in on Shin, which he countered with his 『Hakuramaru』.
Two silver lines clashed in the space between the two opponents.
“Karin, could you see what just happened?”
“It’s frustrating to admit, but all I saw were after-images. But, aside from that, Milady, it’s dangerous, so please stand back a little more.”
Karin tried to pull back Kanade, who had become excited at the sight of the two warriors’ rapid sword slashes.
Battles between opponents of high abilities were dangerous to watch, if one were too close.
Karin, who understood the power of the strike they just witnessed, was sure that they needed to stand further back or they would not be safe.
“Good response, and enough muscular strength to withstand my blade I see.”
“I have trained you know.”
“Show me your technique then.”
After Shin’s casual retort, Munechika crouched, as if sliding on the ground. At the same time, a sword slash flew at Shin from the lower left.
Shin, who had been observing Munechika’s movements while standing still, parried the attacking blade with 『Hakuramaru』.
The two blades grinded against each other, launching sparks all around.
“Not bad at all.”
With a slight smile on her lips, Munechika deftly handled her repelled weapon.
Sustained by a strong sword arm fitting of a level 900, a storm of sword slices attacked Shin like a silver torrent.
Shin parried the slashes with his 『Hakuramaru』, each powerful enough to rend the ground.
The continuous sound of clashing metal continued to reverberate in the surroundings. However, the clashes were so fast that, to Kanade and Karin’ ears, they arrived as one continuous sound.
Each time the blades clashed, the silver torrent produced fiery red sparks, while the ground around Shin was cleaved by traces of sword slices.
(She fights differently, after all.)
Shin analyzed Munechika’s fighting style as he repelled her attacks.
Not all weapons labeled with the name “katana” were the same length. Those like 『Mikazuki Masamune』 had blades roughly 80 cemels long. On the other hand, the category of katana 『Hakuramaru』 belonged to had blades 70 cemels long.
Munechika’s fighting style focused on attacks from a distance, taking advantage of the difference in length of the blades.
Even just 10 cemels felt much longer from Shin’s point of view during the battle.
Each of the female Munechika’s attacks were heavy, but generally she was more focused on quantity.
The male Munechika that Shin had fought in the past was more focused on the power behind each attack, using a fighting style focused on high attack power.
He, or she, had been programmed based on the movements of masters of the sword; Shin remembered that they were much stronger than their level implied.
“So you can match this too. But is defending all you can do?”
“Of course not. I will come very soon!”
Shin parried the opponent’s blade with more intensity than before. He couldn’t go as far as throwing Munechika off balance, but he succeeded in creating space between them.
Taking advantage of that space, lasting less than an instant, Shin slipped closer.
Partly in retaliation towards Munechika, Shin closed in the distance between them in one breath. In the opposite fashion from before, 『Hakuramaru』 turned into a silver flash and attacked, only to be stopped by Munechika.
『Hakuramaru』’s blade was shorter than 『Mikazuki Munechika』, and the difference in their materials made 『Hakuramaru』 lighter too. On the other hand, this allowed it to be swung deep into the opponent’s space with higher speed.
Munechika tried to step back to gain distance and space. Shin however, stepped in even faster.
The scene of a few seconds ago was repeated, but attack and defense had switched places.
Munechika grunted while parrying Shin’s blow. She had barely managed to parry Shin’s slash, which was faster than she had expected.
“As expected of you!”
Shin’s attacks were fast indeed, but barely failed to reach Munechika.
Munechika, despite her inferior speed, could keep up with Shin simply thanks to her ability with the sword.
Maybe because of the way she had been programmed, or how much she had honed her skills in 500 years, Munechika’s ability was higher than Shin’s.
Shin’s fighting style with the katana was born from the teachings he received from someone who actually practiced swordplay -not Kendo- during the game era. He honed it during the Death Game and all the way to the present.
He had made it faster, stronger, more efficient.
Honing his skills in actual battle gave Shin a new strength impossible to attain through simple training.
However, Shin had no particular talent in martial arts.
In many battles, he would come on top thanks to his higher stats; he had received teachings for less than a year, and even though it had been an intense period, he was far from those who could be called masters of the sword.
“To think you could do so much! Interesting!”
“Honored to satisfy your expectations!”
Shin’s slashes, most of which followed a straight path, were systematically parried by the arc-like motions of Munechika’s sword.
The deflected slashes failed to affect Munechika, carving the rocks behind her with their aftershocks instead.
In just a few seconds, they had already clashed more than 10 times, but both warriors were still unscathed.
The cycle of attack and defense seemed like it would continue unchanged, but Shin suddenly changed his attack pattern.
From a distance ideal to attack with『Hakuramaru』, he pushed even closer.
The same moment Munechika noticed his advance, Shin’s right leg leapt forward.
Faced with a sudden kick, Munechika used her left arm to stop it.
The sound of clashing metal echoed, as Munechika slid 10 mels backwards, leaving two straight tracks on the ground.
“Who would expect a kick at that moment? Unpredictable fellow.”
“Relying too much on weapons would leave one defenseless if without one.”
Shin’s fighting style was never reliant on the katana. He had strictly practiced physical skills, especially in case he had been disarmed and lost his weapons.
It was also possible to combine this style with swordplay.
“You figured that even if we kept crossing swords, nothing would change, right?”
“You found me out. As far as technique is concerned, I am a step below you after all.”
“To realize the level of one’s technique is not something bad……that is fine. It’s been a long time since I crossed swords properly. I shall bring you the Dead Snake Grass, wait a moment.”
She was satisfied, or so it seemed. Munechika casually sheathed her sword, so easily that it caught Shin by surprise.
Even if it was just a skirmish, he thought that even if skills weren’t used, a fiercer clash of swords would have been inevitable.
“Er…we are finished?”
“Yes, that will do. I haven’t had a worthy opponent for 100 years after all. And if we continued any more, I wouldn’t be able to hold back.”
Munechika spoke with a smile. Maybe because the battle’s excitement still lingered in her, she emanated an aura so bewitching that it was hard to imagine that she was a transformed weapon.
“I understand, if so I will gladly accept your kindness.”
Perceiving the aura and presence coming from Munechika, Shin took a step back. A duel was one thing, but if they fought seriously, the surrounding geography would change greatly.
“Here, this is what I promised.”
Munechika returned around 10 minutes later, holding a more than a sufficient amount of Dead Snake Grass in her hands.
“Thank you very much.”
“If you have the chance, come again. I wish to speak to you some more.”
“I see. We are hurrying right now, but one day I will.”
Shin rejoined Kanade and Karin, and together they quickly descended Mt. Fuji.
Kanade was happy and excited, the Dead Snake Grass in hand.
In a completely different fashion, Karin was staring at Shin’s back while he kept walking straight ahead.
Shin, feeling her eyes fixed on his back, wondered what reaction she would show.
After coming down from the mountain, they meant to return straight to the Kujou house to deliver the medicine to Kanade’s sister…but it was not to be.
Maybe because of the trying schedule of their journey, or because obtaining the Dead Snake Grass had relieved her, as they reached the foot of the mountain Kanade was unsteady on her feet.
“Let us go back to town and find an inn first.”
They could not make her walk any more, so Shin carried Kanade on his shoulders.
Yuzuha hopped down from Shin’s shoulders and walked on the ground alongside them.
After a few minutes of walking, the sound of Kanade’s sleeping breath reached Shin’s ears.
“She fell asleep. Fortunately it does not seem she has a fever, she must have been very tired.”
“She had been tense all this time, so that’s likely. At Mt. Fuji she had been glared at by Orochi too, so she was probably at her limit mentally as well.”
During the descent from Mt. Fuji, Shin learned that Kanade could not see Eight-headed Orochi’s level.
It was not a mystery why: Orochi’s level was 833, enough to match a Grand Duke-class demon.
With the ability to perceive an opponent’s power, but utterly lack the power to defeat them, Kanade must have been unconsciously tense.
Add the appearance of an opponent at a totally different level like Munechika, and it was no wonder that her tension had reached maximum levels.
This also explained her unusual tone when she joined in Shin and Munechika’s conversation.
“Our first priority is to recover our strength, right. I will stand watch, so please rest Karin. You were tense too, weren’t you?”
Even if their levels of strength were different, Kanade and Karin’s positions were almost the same. On the contrary, it could be said that Karin’s duty of protecting Kanade had probably made her feel even more pressure.
“I am deeply thankful for your consideration. I am embarrassed to admit that I am not perfectly calm right now. The battle between sir Shin and Munechika…even just one aftershock could cause grave injuries, but I was filled with emotions I can’t describe…I suppose I am not normal.”
Karin voiced her inner thoughts, her cheeks slightly flushed.
As far as Shin could see, she was not unwell like Kanade. Being a samurai like him, she must have felt something special.
As they arrived in town, the group headed straight for the inn.
It was the same inn they used before heading for Mt. Fuji, and Yuzuha could stay the night inside too.
They paid for one night and went to their rooms.
“Is your companion ill? If necessary, we can call a doctor.”
The inn owner noticed the sleeping Kanade and asked out of worry.
“It’s fine, I think she is just tired because of the trip. If her condition worsens, we will bring her to the doctor ourselves.”
Shin refused politely so as not to offend the owner, laid Kanade down in her room, and let her sleep.
“I’m in the next room. Let us watch over her, and if she feels better we will depart. Make sure you rest well too, Karin.”
“Thank you very much.”
Shin turned his back to Karin and headed to his room. Using his detection skills to the maximum, he thoroughly checked the surroundings.
He had not felt the presence of anyone following them. The map did not show any red markers either.
If enemies did not clearly show hostility or attack, however, they were not regarded as such. Markers could not be trusted too much.
“Yuzuha, do you feel anything?”
“Kuu? Kuu…no, nothing.”
Yuzuha closed her eyes and perked her ears up, but apparently did not feel anything either.
It was already dusk.
Shin hesitated to leave the two women alone to go eat outside, so he decided to lie on the bed for a while.
Their inn was a high-quality one, so the bed was both large and comfortable.
“She didn’t ask anything in the end.”
Karin’s silhouette appeared in Shin’s mind.
Ever since they started descending Mt. Fuji, Shin felt Karin’s eyes on him…
Maybe it was because of Kanade’s poor condition, or that the timing wasn’t right, but it was a mystery to Shin why Karin hadn’t said a word on their way back from the mountain.
As if to interrupt these thoughts, while he was sprawled out on the bed, Yuzuha jumped up to dive straight on his chest.
She had turned again into young girl mode, so her dive forced a whimper out of the relaxed Shin’s mouth. The last time she had turned into a girl Shin had her put clothes on, so at least this time it wasn’t a naked dive.
The combination of Yuzuha’s shrine maiden robe, with its vivid contrast between red and white, and her shoulder-length silver hair and silver tail attracted Shin’s attention. There were 6 tails poking out of her crimson skirt. He began to wonder where and how they were attached to her body.
“What’s going on? Why the sudden jumping?”
“Shin, all mine”
Yuzuha answered in the slightly disconnected way that she had started talking in after taking this form.
Usually she would cuddle up in a ball on the side of the bed, but now she rested her head on Shin’s chest and closed her eyes.
When Shin was traveling with Schnee, Tiera, and Kagerou, Shin and Yuzuha slept in the same room, and sometimes she would sneak in the same bed as him, half-asleep.
It didn’t happen anymore after Shibaid joined them, but apparently it was because she was holding back.
(She might look grown up, but inside she’s still a kid. Well, this situation is barely acceptable though…)
It could be excused when she was in little girl mode, but now that her looks were those of a teenager, soon this behavior couldn’t just be called “adorable”.
If she grew any more, it would be difficult to just play with her as a “little sister”.
(….little sister, huh…)
Yuzuha lay still on top of Shin, probably asleep. Shin found himself thinking of his little sister in the real world. As if triggered by that, he started recalling many other memories of his former world.
His parents, his grandmother, his other siblings. His high school friends, his university circle members. The faces that appear and disappear in his mind are, for some reason, all smiling.
“…..atchoo! Hey Yuzuha! Don’t poke my nose with your tails! Your fur! Up my nose!!”
The melancholic mood was destroyed by Yuzuha’s sudden attack.
The ends of her wagging tails were poking Shin’s nose.
“No kuu-ing now, little lady. What’s with you all of a sudden.”
“You think, strange things.”
Yuzuha retorted while puffing up her cheeks. Her tails’ movements were meant to pull Shin’s attention back to her apparently. She hadn’t fallen asleep after all, and was not happy being ignored.
Shin’s hands moved to calm her down, but were caught by her tails and brought over her head.
“Sorry, sorry. I just remembered some things…so, should I pat your head now?”
Shin gently caressed Yuzuha’s head, thinking that she was still a little kid after all.
Yuzuha’s tails zipped up, down, left, and right.
Shin couldn’t help but think she looked like a puppy dog. It was a really soothing view.
“…..crap, I got too relaxed…I’m getting sleepy.”
Shin was also rather exhausted, so loosening his nerves let a powerful drowsiness come over him.
Because of a past habit, he instantly casted a barrier-type skill to secure the safety of the room.
“Kuu? Shin, sleep?”
“Sorry Yuzuha…we should get something to eat…”
“You can’t, no good.”
Saying this, Yuzuha returned to her fox form.
Yuzuha had grown due to her stat increases, and was now around 1 mel in length.
Shin was struggling against his heavy eyelids, but Yuzuha’s fluffy fur gave him the coup de grace. Before her warmth and soft touch, it was only a matter of time before Shin drifted into slumber.